It’s never been done before in the history of the Section 1 girls basketball tournament, but all four defending champions — Ossining, Irvington, Albertus Magnus and Haldane — have a chance to repeat in the same year. How good are each of their odds? Let’s take a look.
2015 champ: Ossining. The Pride pulled away from Lourdes in the second half of last year’s final to win their fifth consecutive (and sixth overall) Section 1 Class AA title.
Favorite: Ossining. Considering that the Pride have scored 90 points in both games of this year’s tournament with relative ease, it’s safe to assume Dan Ricci will be adding another gold ball to the Ossining High School trophy case.
Dark horse: John Jay-East Fishkill. The reality is that everyone is a dark horse in Class AA, so long as the Pride continue to slaughter the competition like a Drake diss track. The sixth-seeded Patriots upset No. 3 Scarsdale in the quarterfinals, and the Raiders gave Ossining one of its best games all year. It’s the playoffs; anything is possible.
Game to watch: North Rockland vs. John Jay-East Fishkill. Everyone expected North Rockland and Scarsdale to match up well with each other, and the Patriots clawed out a win against the latter. North Rockland would love a crack at Ossining after a season-ending loss last year, and the Patriots have the momentum of a huge semifinal win.
Championship pick: Ossining over North Rockland. As I said in the tournament preview, the Red Raiders not playing Ossining during the regular season this year could hurt or help them. In the end, you’ve got to go with Ossining.
MVP pick: Shadeen Samuels, Ossining
No. 1 Ossining (20-2)
Coach: Dan Ricci
Key players: Aubrey Griffin, Fr., F; Shadeen Samuels, Sr., F; Jaida Strippoli, Fr., PG.
X-factor: Hunger. With three starting freshmen — Griffin, Strippoli and Kailah Harris — in the starting lineup, this tournament is a chance for the Pride’s youngsters to lay the foundation of their high school careers, as well as frighten everyone in the section for the next three years.
No. 2 North Rockland (19-3)
Coach: Kevin Metcalf
Key players: Gabby Cajou, Sr., G; Pam Miceus, Sr., C; Jaida Patrick, Fr. F.
X-factor: Experience. Although the Red Raiders bring back one starter from last year (Cajou), several of North Rockland’s current starters — Miceus, Lexi Huertas and Amanda Schweitzer — saw good minutes in the past, and remember last year’s County Center trip.
No. 4 New Rochelle (15-7)
Coach: Robert Bynum
Key players: Kayla Correa, Sr., PG; Stephanie Ryder, Jr., F; Nicole Ziogas, So., G/F
X-factor: Size. Correa’s the only one bereft of a growth spurt on this team, but the Coppin State-bound point guard is also one of the fastest players in the section. The Huguenots have powerful size in the paint and versatile size on the perimeter to give teams fits.
No. 6 John Jay-East Fishkill (16-6)
Coach: Larry Brooks
Key players: Marion Dietz, Sr., G; Sam Fitzgerald, Sr., G; Sam Mosca, Sr., F.
X-factor: Momentum. One cannot deny the power of momentum in the playoffs, and the Patriots have it. A senior-laden team already knocked off one Section 1 giant in this year’s tournament, why not another?
2015 champ: Albertus Magnus. After back-to-back years of playing second fiddle to Peekskill, the Falcons finally got the best of the Lady Red Devils to cap an undefeated Section 1 season.
Favorite: Albertus Magnus. Class A has been a mess all year, but the Falcons return a young, deep and richly experienced roster that will be unfazed by the bright lights of the County Center.
Dark horse: Pearl River. The Pirates already beat Albertus Magnus twice this year, so if they can get by Rye in the semifinals, it should make for an interesting championship match. The last time Pearl River was in the County Center, in 2013, it lost a double-overtime heartbreaker as the top seed. The team that beat it? Yup, Albertus Magnus. Many of the current Pirates were on that team.
Game to watch: Ursuline vs. Albertus Magnus. People were up-in-arms when the decision was made that the Koalas would drop down to Class A mid-season. Many people, rather, many public school representatives and fans, have a problem with private schools playing in a public school championship tournament. Here, we’ve got two going against one another.
Championship pick: Albertus Magnus over Rye. Although the Garnets won their regular-season matchup, the Falcons were without starting point guard — and reigning Class A tournament MVP — Dani LaRochelle for most of the game. A rematch would be fun to watch.
MVP pick: Kate Mager, Albertus Magnus
No. 1 Ursuline (18-4)
Coach: Beth Wooters
Key players: Cara Garvey, Jr., PG; Korina Guerra, Jr., G; Katie McLoughlin, Jr., F.
X-factor: Defense. Albertus Magnus likes to move the ball around and has a plethora of strong outside shooters. If the Koalas can force turnovers, or at least prevent open looks for the Falcons, they can dethrone the defending champs.
No. 3 Rye (18-4)
Coach: Dennis Hurlie
Key players: Maddie Eck, Sr. F; Taylor Maurer, Sr., PG; Katie Popp, Jr., G.
X-factor: The dynamic duo. Yes, it’s hard — nearly impossible — to win a championship without a cohesive team, but you also can’t ignore what Eck and Popp are capable of doing on a nightly basis. They’re one of the best tandems in the state, and that gives Rye not one, but two aces in the hole.
No. 4 Albertus Magnus (18-4)
Coach: Pat Buckley
Key players: Mairead Durkin, So., F; Dani LaRochelle, So., PG; Kate Mager, So., G
X-factor: Ball handling. The Falcons are as deep as an Aaron Sorkin project, so the likelihood of all of their players struggling to shoot the ball is slim. However, Albertus Magnus can be prone to turnovers at times. If the Falcons take care of the ball, they’ll take a gold one back to Bardonia.
No. 7 Pearl River (17-5)
Coach: Chris Woolgar
Key players: Lauren Gallagher, Sr., F; Kari Portington, Sr., F; Jenna Scanlon, Sr., G.
X-factor: Defense. The Pirates’ defense has been the backbone of the program for decades, and there’s a reason why Pearl River is competitive every year. Woolgar said earlier this year he thinks Gallagher is one of the top two defenders in the section. The other? Maddie Eck. They face each other in the semifinal.
2015 champ: Irvington. If it wasn’t for Khalil Edney, last year’s final probably would’ve been the second-best high school game I’ve seen. The Bulldogs held off Ardsley in a thriller that came down to the last second.
Favorite: Irvington. The Bulldogs have just one loss on the year, that coming after a shooting performance of 18 percent. Other than that, they’ve been taking names all year.
Dark horse: Putnam Valley. The Tigers upset Briarcliff, which should’ve given the Bulldogs a real challenge for the gold ball. Cornell-bound center Reena Olsen, who stands at a towering 6-foot-3, is a tremendous asset for head coach Nick Lenhard in a relatively undersized Class B.
Game to watch: Irvington vs. Valhalla. Like Putnam Valley, the Vikings have a strong inside presence in 6-foot-1 sophomore center Sam Morillo, and a talented eighth-grader in Shelby Sekinski. Valhalla hasn’t been to the County Center since 2009, while Irvington has won five gold balls in the same span, but its here to contend.
Championship pick: Irvington over Woodlands. The Falcons won the regular-season tilt, but the Bulldogs also shot 18 percent in that game. The fact that Irvington can kill two birds with one stone in avenging the only loss of its season and defending its section title is all the motivation it needs.
MVP pick: Lindsay Halpin, Irvington
No. 1 Irvington (20-1)
Coach: Gina Maher
Key players: Heather Hall, So., G; Lindsay Halpin, Jr., PG; Olivia Valdes, So., G.
X-factor: Depth. Halpin, who has already eclipsed 1,000 career points, is the obvious star, but the Bulldogs are loaded with talent from top to bottom. Sophomore forward Mary Brereton is one of the top reserves in the section.
No. 3 Woodlands (15-6)
Coach: Anthony Jackson
Key players: Teisha Hyman, Fr., G; Jasmine Michaux, Jr., G; Diamond Spaulding, Sr., G.
X-factor: Depth. Hyman has a target on her back every game, and for good reason. The freshman is having a player of the year-caliber season and already has Division I offers from South Florida and Rutgers, meaning the rest of the Falcons will have to step up in order to bring home the gold ball.
No. 4 Valhalla (18-4)
Coach: Stephen Boyer
Key players: Frankie Guzzo, Sr., G; Sam Morillo, So., C; Shelby Sekinski, 8th, G.
X-factor: Morillo. The sophomore is having a breakout campaign this year and is one of the hardest players players to defend due to her size and physicality. The only other player in the class who can — literally — match up with her is Putnam Valley’s Olsen.
No. 7 Putnam Valley (16-6)
Coach: Nick Lenhard
Key players: Reena Olsen, Sr., C; Alyssa Stockinger, Sr., F; Stephanie Wagner, Sr., G.
X-factor: Confidence. This is a team that won just two games in 2014 and is now riding a nine-game winning streak heading into the County Center. If the Tigers have the confidence to play like they belong, they’ll be fine; if they lack confidence and second-guess themselves, not so much.
2015 champ: Haldane. The Blue Devils ran roughshod on Hamilton en route to their second consecutive title.
Favorite: Haldane. The defending champs still have plenty of talent left over from last year, and have made the County Center a second home.
Dark horse: Hamilton. The Red Raiders have run off nine straight wins and could threaten Haldane’s chances at a three-peat before it even gets to the finals.
Game to watch: Haldane vs. Hamilton. A rematch of last year’s final? Yes, please.
Championship pick: Haldane over Keio. The Unicorns have been doing really big things this season under first-year head coach Steven Loscher, and they need some really big rings. Well, players don’t get rings for winning the section, but they do for winning the state.
MVP pick: Missy Lisikatos, Haldane
No. 1 Keio (14-6)
Coach: Steven Loscher
Key players: Rumi Hirose, Sr., G; Marina Kofukugawa, Sr., F; Hana Nakajima.
X-factor: Loscher. The guy knows how to win, period. He took Peekskill to the Class A final in his only season there last year, and he’s already obliterated the Unicorns’ win total from a year ago (four).
No. 2 Hamilton (14-6)
Coach: Benjamin Carter
Key players: Nina Gill, Jr., F; Jada Rojas, Jr., G; Neasha Shuler, Sr., F.
X-factor: Gill. The junior forward is not only a double-double machine (six in her last seven games), but she averages nearly half of the team’s points at 21.7 per game.
No. 3 Haldane (10-10)
Coach: Tyrone Searight
Key players: Alison Chiera, So., G; Missy Lisikatos, Jr., G; Hannah Monteleone, Jr., G.
X-factor: Experience. While the Blue Devils graduated all-state guard (and last year’s tournament MVP) Allie Monteleone, everyone else is back.
No. 4 North Salem (7-13)
Coach: Eric Buzzetto
Key players: Elsa Bechu, Jr., F/C; Grace Curran, Fr., G; Livia Dworaczyk, Sr., F.
X-factor: Motivation. Nobody is expecting the Tigers to make a legitimate run at the gold ball, which could fuel North Salem’s fire.